By this point, 2016 has started to develop its true character, mainly based on famous people dying and political and religious extremism: halcyon days! Ah well, never mind, I’ve listened to, looked at and read lots of things which passed the time pleasantly and helped to block out the nasty stuff: so that’s nice. Re those things, more below…
Sweatshop by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics Books)
At first, Sweatshop feels more like one of Peter Bagge’s more lightweight, knockabout strips like Batboy or Studs Kirby, and compared to the brilliant Woman Rebel it is, but there’s more substance to the characters in Sweatshop than you’d think. This is perhaps because the situation (a group of ambitious young cartoonists working for a grouchy, reactionary, but famous old cartoonist to produce his well-known but trivial newspaper strip) is one close to the hearts of Bagge and his own team of artists. It’s funny and silly, but also well plotted and with some sharp observations about the world of cartooning as well as human relationships etc; a good book in fact.
Various short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The selection I have was collected by Penguin Classics in Bernice Bobs Her Hair and other stories) I first read Fitzgerald’s short stories when I was a teenager and have gone back to them every now and then. I’m always surprised by how funny and sad they are. I bought Bernice Bobs Her Hair because of the beautiful photo of Louise Brooks on the cover and I’m glad to see Penguin are still using it for a similar book of Fitzgerald’s stories.
Anthrophobia by Godhole/Crozier & Godhole’s s/t EP (Mind Ripper Collective)
I had already heard both of these great releases but when I saw that Mind Ripper were selling them on vinyl 7″s ridiculously inexpensively. Anthrophobia is a brilliant meeting of two very different musical personalities, with Godhole’s intensely emotive and strangely catchy powerviolence being distorted almost to the point of non-music by Crozier’s harsh noise; it’s bracing and not at all pretty, but it has a real impact and is worryingly addictive. The same is true of the Godhole EP, although it is relatively more disciplined insofar as it sounds like a band, rather than a catastrophic nightmare.
Islands by The Cosmic Array (Folkwit Records)
For 99% of the time, a complete contrast with the above (though the second half of Drones is surprisingly noisy and atonal), I was especially impressed by the forthcoming Cosmic Array album because I didn’t expect to like it at all. “Alt country/Americana”, ‘immersive and cinematic’ or not, is not really my thing* but in fact this album brings together a beautifully peculiar space-age melancholy that has (to me) hints of the Flaming Lips, Spacemen 3, My Little Airport and even the BMX Bandits and a sound that is a hybrid of UK indie and alt country (Fire Up The Sky is, strangely, almost shoegaze-alt country; actually, Moose’s XYZ was a great shoegaze/Americana album, so maybe not so strange?). Anyway; the songs are catchy and nice, Paul Battenbough and Abby Sohn are really good, expressive vocalists and it really is a big, widescreen cinematic sound as advertised; so put aside anti-country prejudices (if like me you have them) and give it a listen.
*BUT: check out Hale (2012) by The Sterling Sisters if you’ve never heard it: great
Gensho by Boris with Merzbow
From mellow Welsh-American music to Japanese heavy noise; Gensho includes a cover, swathed in echo and delay, of perhaps my favourite My Bloody Valentine song, Sometimes and that kind of sums up the album; it’s beautiful and haunting and harsh and (only occasionally) nearly unlistenable, but it’s great. Merzbow’s harsh, but essentially malice-free abstract noise takes (to say the least) the slightly saccharine edge off of the more pop/shoegaze direction Boris has been making over the last few albums and Boris’ essential musicality makes Merzbow feel less like an experiment to test the capabilities of your speakers/ears; less background/white noise-like. It’s a great partnership and I’d like them to explore it further.
Changeless by Gail Carriger (2010)
A lightning-fast re-read for possibly my favourite of Gail Carriger’s brilliantly witty and tongue-in-cheek steampunk novels concerning the soulless heroine Alexia Tarabotti; I don’t really believe in having crushes on fictional characters, but if I did, I would. I think it was at the end of this book that I realised how much feeling I had invested in the characters. Although she is often compared to PG Wodehouse (fair enough in a way), I’d say (if forced to compare) that for me, Gail Carriger combines the lightness of tone and depth of feeling that I find in two of my favourite ever books; The Rock Pool by Cyril Connolly and Afternoon Men by Anthony Powell.
Bacteria Cult by Kaada/Patton (Ipecac Recordings)
The third collaboration between Mike Patton and John Erika Kaada is, despite the ominous title, an extremely wide ranging and often light-toned (if moody, in the film-soundtrack sense) collection of dramatic and sometimes operatic (but not always melodramatic) pieces, ranging from the strangely Tom Waits-like Papillon to the Morricone-ish Black Albino. It’s a perfectly judged album, Mike Patton’s voice(s) interweaving with the orchestra to create individual pieces that are at the same time short and vast;too involving to be ‘background music’ it really does sound like an epic soundtrack in search of who knows what kind of film.
I also rediscovered to mix CDs (never sounds as good as ‘mixtape’) made for me by a friend years ago which embody all that is great about a classic mixtape; I didn’t know all the songs (or bands) before I heard them and I didn’t end up being a fan of everything on them, but there’s something about a home-compiled (nowadays people would probably say ‘curated’) tape of someone else’s music that is fascinating and entertaining, plus these have fantastic collage artwork. I hope the ‘youth of today’ still makes these kinds of things! Anyway, offered here as a kind of playlist not of my making: much of which is recommended –
- VHS or Beta – Heaven
- Toadies – Possum Kingdom
- This Mortal Coil – Holocaust
- Thee Headcoats – I’m Unkind
- The Locust – Skin Graft At 75
- Strung Out – Tattoo
- The Specials – Too Much, Too Young
- Sneaker Pimps/Portishead – Water
- An Albatross – The Great Sarcophagus
- At The Drive In – This Night Has Opened My Eyes
- The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star
- Billie Holiday – On The Sunny Side of the Street
- Billy Bragg/Wilco – Ingrid Bergman
- Blondie – One Way Or Another
- Bouncing Souls – Break Up Song
- Bright Eyes – Something Vague
- Cat Power – Where Is My Love?
- Cranes – Lilies
- The Faint – There’s Something Not As Valid When The Scenery Is A Postcard
- Fugazi – Waiting Room
- Go-Gos – Lust To Love
- The Mars Volta – Son et Lumiere
- Mates of State – I Got A Feelin
- Mates of State – I Have Space
- The Misfits – Scream
- Screeching Weasel – Zombie
STUFF + THINGS
- Bright Eyes – The Calendar Hung Itself
- Gogol Bordello – Bulla Bulla
- Ima Robot – Dirty Life
- Ima Robot – Twist + Shout
- Frou Frou – Breathe In
- Placebo – Blind
- Devandra Banhart – My Ships
- Devandra Banhart – Legless Love
- The Cramps – Eyeball in my Martini
- Nightmare of You – Thumbelina
- Nightmare of You – In The Bathroom
- Jets To Brazil – Chinatown
- Sleater Kinney – Funeral Song
- Sleater Kinney – Dig Me Out
- Sonic Youth – 100%
- Tegan and Sara – Walking With A Ghost
- Tiger Army – Never Die
- Tilt – Libel
- The Weakerthans – Wellington’s Wednesdays
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Date With The Night
- William Shatner – I Wanna Sex You Up
- The Smiths – The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
- Scarling – City Noise
- Roy Orbison – In Dreams
and there you have it: March 2016 – onwards!